by Dara Wilson-Grant

If you are looking for a job or thinking about a career change, you’ve probably been told that networking is the answer. According to the statistics, between 40 and 80 percent of all jobs are landed through networking (the numbers vary depending on the source). While sound advice, the details on how to network often go unmentioned.

Here are some tips that can help you build meaningful, lasting connections that can get your career on the fast track.

Enter the relationship with realistic expectations and keep your requests reasonable.

Networking is not expecting complete strangers or casual acquaintances to help you in your job search (e.g., circulate your résumé or connect you to a hiring manager). For starters, most connections aren’t in a position to assist you at such a high level. Even if they were, most would be hesitant to put their professional reputation on the line for someone they barely know—and rightfully so.

It is much more acceptable to ask someone for insight and advice that can help you evaluate your career options or develop the best course of action for moving you closer to your goals. In fact, people are more likely to lend a hand with this approach.

People who enjoy what they do are happy to discuss their careers with others and offer advice for how you can follow in their footsteps. We’ve all struggled at some point in our career—whether it’s trying to determine our next steps or the frustrations of the job search. As a result, most of us are empathetic and willing to help simply because we’ve been there.

Always follow up with a note of thanks.

The rules of common courtesy and basic professionalism suggest that at the very least, you follow up with a thank-you note, emailed or handwritten. It can be as simple as: “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me yesterday. I appreciate the information and advice you shared.” Failing to show basic manners not only makes people less inclined to help you in the future, it can negatively impact your overall professional image. It’s not just who you know; it’s what they think of you. Conversely, a thoughtful follow-up is more likely to leave the recipient feeling valued and appreciated, thus more likely open to future interaction.

Look for ways to reciprocate.

Last but not least, networking is about building longlasting professional relationships that are of mutual benefit. As the person in need, it’s easy to feel as though you have nothing to offer in return. However, even something as seemingly small as a $10 coffee card can go a long way in showing gratitude and a willingness to do for others. When in doubt, you can also ask how you might return the favor. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When you leave people feeling valued and appreciated, you are more likely to reap the benefits of networking.

Dara Wilson-Grant, MSEd, is a licensed professional counselor and the associate director of Postdoctoral Affairs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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